KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Jéferson may still be somewhat of an unknown commodity, but Sporting Kansas City’s newly signed Designated Player certainly made a solid first impression in his first official appearance with the club on Wednesday.
Sporting and manager Peter Vermes got a preliminary taste of what the Brazilian midfielder has to offer as Jéferson started and played 45 minutes against Newcastle United in a lively, but ultimately scoreless, draw at Livestrong Sporting Park.
“I think he’s what we expected him to be,” Vermes said. ”He’s definitely a No. 10. He’s a guy who wants the ball and is very confident. He still needs to understand a little bit of how we play and some of the guys [play].”
That understanding should come as Jéferson continues to integrate himself into the team — he had just two days of training with his teammates prior to Wednesday’s friendly — and works himself into the kind of fitness required to play 90 minutes in the summer conditions.
The 27-year-old was often the best attacking player on the pitch during the first half, finding space and time for four shots from distance, an audacious nutmeg and a handful of defense-splitting passes that Sporting failed to capitalize on.
“For me, it was a good start,” he said. “I just wish I could have scored one of those chances. But I was mobile, I got the ball where I wanted to get it and I played my game, which is trying to set up my teammates. It’s a start, and it’s just going to get better. I’m just looking forward to Saturday now.”
Vermes said he had initially planned on giving Jéferson a half-hour or so against the Magpies to get his legs underneath him, but the player was adamant that he was capable of putting in the same shift as most of Sporting’s other starters. He played alongside Graham Zusi and Roger Espinoza in the midfield, shifting between occupying a deep-lying playmaker role and venturing into the attacking third.
Jéferson’s desire to possess the ball was evident from the opening whistle, and his touch and vision set him apart from the rest of the players on the field. Even Newcastle manager Alan Pardew found time to voice his praise for Kansas City’s recent acquisition following the match.
“I thought that Jéferson in particular was a problem for us in the first half,” Pardew said. “He has got a real talent, and he was probably the catalyst for most of the good things that Kansas City did in that period.”
Despite the flashes he showed, Jéferson said he is still learning and adjusting to Kansas City’s style of play and Vermes’ tactical preferences. Sporting typically line up in a 4-3-3 formation when they have the ball and shift into a more defense shell when they lose possession, which is slightly different from what the former Vasco da Gama was accustomed to at home in Brazil.
“I’m used to more of a 4-4-2 scheme,” Jéferson said. “Nevertheless, I’ve already gotten a taste of what the tendencies are, especially of the wide players. ... It’s just a matter of working with my teammates, feeling it out more and more and hopefully integrating 100 percent into the team.”
Kansas City hope he can do that quickly as they attempt to take advantage of a home-heavy final few months to return to the playoffs after two barren seasons. Vermes said Jéferson could start against Toronto FC this Saturday but was unlikely to play more than 60 to 75 minutes as they ease him into the league and a full 90 minutes.
And if his 45-minute cameo against Newcastle was any indication of what’s to come, he could be the type of player that takes Sporting over the top.
“He’s only been here for two days, but he’s fit in well,” Vermes said. “I think he’s going to give us a good push here during the second half of the season. I think he can not only grow with us but take us to another level with the way he sees the game and can give the final pass. In our league, he’s going to be a special player.”